Sunday, January 02, 2005

In Which I Reveal Some Family Character Traits That May Or May Not Reflect Upon Me

dalcq women, originally uploaded by azurenath.

I come from a line of extremely fastidious women.

When I was ten my cousins and I collaborated on a drawing of my grandmother. We titled it “Post-It-O-Saurus” and it was a picture of a Post-It-wielding dinosaur that was supposed to represent her.

We have ample evidence to back this allegation. Any drawer you open in this house; any cupboard door, any machine you pick up and look under—guaranteed there's a Post-It stuck to it detailing how it works, where it came from, and from whom. (Her children recently got her a red leather ‘Post-It wallet’ from Delvaux, with a miniature pen attached—she was thrilled.)

Grand-Mamy is a maven of order. Every book peeled off a shelf hides between its pages an article cut out of Time or Paris Match about the person who wrote it or how it was received. All of the handles of the teacups in her cupboard face the same direction. All of the plate edges line up straight. She collects miniatures, garnishing the house with duck statuettes lined up queue-leu-leu on a mantelpiece, a smattering of snuff-boxes atop a trunk; enamel, filigree, wood.

Grand-Mamy is also the family documentarian (she’s where I get it from, I guess). Forty-five photo albums (numbered) sit docilely on the lower shelf of the blue bedroom; before and after bed I peel one from its brothers and flip thoughtfully through yellowed, crinkle-edged photographs tacked to silken pages. I come upon my parents’ wedding album, which I’ve never seen before. They were married in the rain, young and beautiful, far away, in a language no one from the family understood. My dad’s wearing white jeans and my mom, flip-flops. People who were there tell me, winking, that they’d never seen so much kissing in church. During the ceremony they look up at the priest earnestly; afterwards they peer out from under an umbrella, glistening, radiant. At the party people wear big floopy patterns, headscarves, fluted pants—my uncle sports a sailor top. I see my mother in my grandmother and my sister in my mom. I see Amélie in Marie’s temples, her quirky eyebrows, the curve of her smile, my cousin Céline in Isabelle’s full cheeks.

Traits like Grand-Mamy’s, apparently etched into DNA, trickle down the family tree. One of my aunts keeps a notebook in which she writes down the weight, date and name of each aluminum barquette that goes into her freezer, crossing off the ones that waltz out to be eaten. My mother had a notebook, too, in which (if I recall correctly) one can find shoe, pant and underwear sizes for her husband and two daughters, names of Tintin volumes we already own so that when she shops for more she doesn’t replicate them, and a constantly updated list of recommended must-see movies to which she can refer while at Blockbuster picking up Friday night’s rental.

Every morning at breakfast Grand-Mamy cleans her glasses with one individually packaged Handi-Wipe. Every night at 7:30 she has an aperitif with my grandfather, a custom they’ve kept up for fifty-four years. Every year, yoked by the solemn, firm sense of duty that characterizes her generation but seems to have eclipsed mine, she writes her reviled Dutch governess a birthday letter. Juffrouw turns 100 this year; Grand-Mamy, seventy-five.

On a dare at the age of sixty-five, she popped a chewing gum into her mouth for the first time ever, attempted to blow a bubble, and sent the wad flying past the neck of a Russian taxi driver (in Russia). On a dare at the age of sixty-six, she jumped into the swimming pool for the first time, choking and gagging—but triumphant—on the way up. On a dare at the age of sixty-seven, she went, and I swear this is true, hang-gliding.

Her Christmas present this year was a cellular telephone, which tonight my sister taught her to use. Of course, she took notes. On Post-Its.

Will YOU be this cool at seventy-five?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nath - The article about your grandmother and the women in your family is one of the best things you've ever written!!! I LOVE IT! miss you ~alisha

12:17 AM  
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